Saturday Independent, July 2016

By the time you read this article I would have just arrived in Singapore to attend the Singapore garden Festival which is the Chelsea Flower Show of Singapore. This takes place every 2 years and is held at Gardens by the Bay for a week. It will be interesting to see lots of new garden designs and unusual new plants from around the world.

The flowering season for most of the winter flowering plants is all but over especially in Durban. The Aloes still have a few flowers but most of the shrubs have finished flowering and need to be pruned this coming month. This includes Leonotis leonoris (Wild Dagga), Hypoestes aristata (Ribbon Bush) and Tecoma capensis (Cape Honey Suckle). But as one lot of plants finish flowering so another type start to push flower spikes and flower. Many of us have gardens that are very shady and growing plants in shade can be a challenge. I spend a lot of time walking in the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve which is mostly in deep forest. This reserve gives me lots of ideas of what grows best in deep shade and the best place to get ideas is from nature. One of my favorite shrubs that flowers in mid-July and will flower for the next 2 months is the Forest Bell-bush, Mackaya bella. This plant is named after the well-known Scottish Horticulturist James Townsend MacKay, author of Flora Hibernica. Its specific name bella meaning beautiful, a tribute to its large bell shaped flowers . It is an evergreen shrub that showcases masses of white and lightly purple flowers and glossy dark green leaves. It does not grow into a large plant but large enough to make an impact in any garden, reaching an average height between 3-4 metres. Its flowers mostly appear in late winter to early spring but with the warm weather we have experienced this past year the plants are slightly confused. Once the plants have finished flower they can be pruned hard for the next season’s success. It fruits appear in late October and usually finished by December. Its natural distribution is from the Eastern Cape through Kwazulu Natal and Mpumalanga. It prefers the subtropical conditions of the regions it is endemic to and does not like cold conditions although I have seen it growing well in Johannesburg. It prefers to grow in shady conditions with a few hours sunshine a day. In full sun this shrub will wilt and burn so make sure you grow this shrub in shade. It is fairly fast growing and does best as a border or boundary planting or as a filler between other species or even as a pot plant. It like a well-drained soil and thrives with plenty of well decomposed compost. If the leaves start to turn yellow it is an indication that it is getting too much direct sunlight. It is best propagated by taking semi hardwood cuttings in autumn or spring or if you do collect seed then sow this seed in spring. Make sure you give these shrub lots of water during the summer growing season. This can be reduced in winter as the plant goes into a dormant state. The wood has been used to kindle fires and the blue Pansy Butterfly caterpillars (Precis oenone oenone) feed on this shrub. If you have a shady garden I highly recommend this shrub.

A number of other plants that will grow and flower in a shady garden:

Dracaena aletriformis (large- leaf Dragon- tree), Dietes grandiflora (Wild iris), Duvernoia adhatodoides (Pistol bush), Metarungia longistrobus (Northern Orange-lips), Chlorophytum bowkeri  and Chlorophytum krookianum (Hen and Chicken), Haemanthus albiflos (White Paint Brush), Clivia miniata (Bush Lily, Clivia), Psychotria capensis (Black bird-berry), Plectranthus zuluensis (Zulu Spur Flower), Plectranthus ciliatus and most of the Plectranthus species.

The different species of Erythrinas or Coral trees have flowered particularly well this year. The lack of rain and heat all contribute to the magnificent flowering season which we are experiencing. I have 3 species in my garden and  watching the birds and monkeys feed on the flowers and nectar is always fun to watch.

Things to do this month

  • Due to the drought many plants will struggle to survive unless the rains come early. Best to prune shrubs back and mulch the soil with leaves from your garden or compost bought from a local nursery. The pruning and the leaf mulch will reduce the amount of transpiration from the plant thus protect it from drying out and dying. If you have a bore hole with free water then you can water your plants. But if not then refrain from watering as we are in one of the worst droughts in living memory.
  • As mentioned earlier in the article prune back your shrubs that have recently flowered. This includes Leonotis leonorus, Hypoestes aristata, Plectranthus ecklonii, Tecoma capensis and Plumbago auriculata.
  • No need to cut your lawns till the first signs of spring. Most lawn go dormant in winter and will recover quickly after the first rains and when the days get longer and warmer. Till then do not mow.
  • Lift and split some of your groundcovers. This includes Chlorophytum bowkeri or better known as Hen and Chicken. Once lifted divide the plants by breaking off some of the side shoots. Cut the leaves in half which reduces the surface area for water loss. Only remove dead and rotten roots. Add compost to the soil and replant the groundcover. Once planted water well if you have access to water. This can be done with many of the groundcovers which include Tulbaghia violacea (wild garlic), Agapanthus praecox, Crassula multicarva (fairy Crassula) and Dietes grandiflora (Wild Iris). Most plants respond well to being lifted, split and replanted. Make sure once you have removed the plants from the soil that you replenish the soil with compost and fertilizer before replanting.
  • Many of the Aloe species would have finished flowering. Leave the old flower spikes on the plant till the seed pods dry and split exposing the seeds. You can collect these seeds and plant them in a seedling tray. Once they germinate and grow to a decent size you can then plant them in your garden.
  • Take cuttings of the shrubs you prune this year. Soft tip cuttings work well with many of the shrubs. Cut just below a node and place the cutting in a tray of river sand. Keep moist but not over watered. In about a month to 6 weeks new roots will appear. Remove from the river sand and plant in a plastic packet with potting soil. Water well and keep in a semi shady spot in your garden. Once you see lots of new growth you can then plant this shrub in your garden.
  • If you notice insects on your plants you need to first identify what this insect is and what it is feeding on. Best to take a pair of secateurs and remove the infected part. Try and encourage beneficial insects such as the Ladybird beetles that feed on Aphids to breed in your garden. If you keep spraying with an insecticide it will kill not just the pests but also the beneficial insects.
  • Do all your structural work such as pathways, pergolas and water features. As soon as the rainy season starts this becomes more difficult.
  • Enjoy the last of the flowering Aloes which have been very spectacular these past 2 months.
  • Great time to plant trees as this gives the roots time to settle and produce new roots before the start of the rainy season. It is also a good time to prune trees and many of the trees would have lost their leaves in winter. It is interesting to see how many trees are pushing new leaves even though we are in the middle of winter. It has been particularly warm so that is the reason for all this growth.

Happy gardening

This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specializing in landscaping, consultation and Botanical expeditions. If you have any questions please contact me on the following email address: cgmdalzell@gmail.com